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Find and Win College Scholarships

Find and Win College Scholarships

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Emily Merrill
UpdatedSep 6, 2019
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    7 min read
Key Takeaways:
  • With the right combination of strategy, skills and perseverance you can win a college scholarship.
  • Cast your net wide, looking for academic, departmental, and independent college scholarships.
  • Be systematic in managing your submissions, so you don't miss any deadlines.
Let's Talk

Hi y’all! My name is Emily Merrill, and I am a biology and religion student at Baylor University. If getting ready for college has taught me anything, it is how to manage my finances. In this blog series, I hope to be a helpful resource and guide to students making financial decisions and preparing for the financial responsibility of a college education. I am so excited to share important financial health lesson that I have learned with you. So, grab a cup of coffee and find a cozy place to sit, and let’s talk!

How to Find and Win College Scholarshops

What if I told you that you could reduce (if not completely eliminate) college debt through scholarships? Most students believe that the funds stop after they receive their college-awarded merit scholarship. However, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships available to students in addition to their merit scholarship. I want to give you an overview of scholarships, from categorizing them, to finding them and then applying for them. I earned over $117,000 of scholarships for college, and so can you!

You don't have to win big to receive a big benefit and improve your financial health. Any amount of scholarship money you win is money you don't have to take out in student loans.

Scholarship opportunities can be broken up into three main categories: academic, departmental, and independent scholarships.

Academic Scholarships

An academic scholarships is a college award given to you based on your academic achievements. This is normally determined by an assessment of your GPA and standardized test scores (ACT/SAT). In order to receive a higher academic scholarship, you need to focus on maintaining your grades in high school and scoring well on standardized testing. This means being productive during study time, and possibly taking some prep courses to increase your ACT or SAT score.

However, once you receive your academic scholarship, you may still be eligible to increase it. Most schools divide academic scholarships in levels. For instance, a 3.5 and a 28 on your ACT will place you in one scholarship level, while a 3.8 and a 32 on your ACT will make you eligible for a higher bracket of academic scholarships. Lots of schools have a window in which they will accept and apply higher ACT and SAT scores to your academic scholarship. Talk to your financial aid counselor about raising your academic scholarship with a higher standardized test score. Also, be sure to ask if the college you are interested in superscores your ACT for scholarships. If so, this can help you reach a higher scholarship bracket.

Departmental Scholarships

Departmental Scholarships are handed out by the different departments within a college or university. Athletic scholarships, fine arts scholarships, and any major-specific scholarships are examples of what I would call a departmental scholarship. Athletic scholarships and fine art scholarships are awarded based on your talent in a sport or artistic area. Your area of academic interests may also produce these type of departmental scholarships within the specific area of study you choose. For example, the biology department may have scholarships specific to students interested in pursing biology or medicine, while the religion department may have other specific scholarships for students interested in church ministry or missions. Talk to each department at schools of interest to determine additional scholarship money for which you may qualify.

Also, don’t be afraid to apply for a departmental scholarship that doesn’t match your major. If an area piques your interest, and you qualify for the scholarship, then go for it! Seek scholarships that match your academic and extracurricular pursuits. The worst thing that can happen is you don’t get the scholarship, so it can’t hurt to try!

Independent Scholarships

Independent scholarships are private, outside scholarships sponsored by independent funding. A variety of law firms, banks, websites, and companies offer scholarships to students in hopes of promoting their business, raising awareness or giving back to their student community. The great part about independent scholarships is that you can seek out ones that are tailored to your interests! There are scholarships for athletes, artists, internet-savvy students, musicians, writers, and academic achievers; there are opportunities for everyone.

Types of independent scholarships include writing contests, art contests, and video contests. One scholarship may ask you to write about the negative effects of social media, while another might ask you to create a slogan that promotes safe driving habits. Creative writing contests will prompt you to write about your favorite fictional character, summer memory, or pet. Photography and drawing contests will ask you to capture a scene in nature or raise awareness for ocean pollution. Other scholarships are academic and community service-driven, as the donors want to provide financial aid to deserving or passionate students. There are even need-based scholarships. My point is, there are numerous opportunities out there. The best part about private scholarships is that you can use them at any college or university you choose to attend.

How You Can Find and Win Independent Scholarships?

I found that there are two ways to discover private scholarships. The first is to visit scholarship-specific websites. These websites contain a variety of contests for you to enter. Most will require you to fill out a profile so that they can match you with scholarships for which you are eligible. These websites include,, and

The second way to find private scholarships is to research, research, research. This sounds tedious, but I have found and won several scholarships that I came come across on the internet. Search for specific categories like “creative writing scholarships”, “scholarships for seniors in high school”, or “photography contest scholarships”. Like I mentioned before, you just have to look for these scholarships. Diligence pays off.

Here are some helpful tips and tricks before you start your scholarship search that paid off for me.

  1. Be mindful of each applicant pool. How many people are you competing against? Do you qualify for the scholarship you are applying for? Seeking out private scholarships with smaller applicant pools will, for example, increase your chances of earning a scholarship. Many banks, law firms, private businesses, and sponsored websites offer scholarship opportunities, but you will only find them advertised on their website.
  2. Prioritize deadlines with scholarship effort and gain. Let’s say that, after reading this post, you are motivated to search and apply for scholarships (yay!) Now, imagine that you have found 20 scholarships that you are eligible for, but they are all due next week! If you are a full- time student, it may not be reasonable for you to try and apply for all twenty scholarships. To prioritize, find out which scholarship offers you the most money for the work that you will put in. For example, it might be better to apply for 10 short-answer essays that reward $1,000 each than 2 five-page essays that reward the same amount of money.
  3. Catalog and track your scholarship entries. Once you have written essays, save them in a folder on your computer so that you have a record of what you submitted in case you are later interviewed about your entry. I also found that keeping a list of the scholarship name, date submitted, date the winner will be announced and amount of the award, has helped me be able to follow-up to see if I had won. Just by creating a list, I was establishing a record of the scholarships I had entered, which made me eligible for one scholarship that was awarded simply for showing that you had diligently applied for various scholarships! By keeping good records, you can sometimes reuse an essay or rework an essay to apply for similar scholarships.
  4. Be persistent; be consistent. I won an average of 25% of the scholarships I entered. Don’t be discouraged by what you haven’t won. Instead, focus on what you have won. Notice patterns in the scholarships you win. For instance, if you win more writing contests than you do art contests, then focus your time and efforts on those essay scholarships. Consistency is also key. Try to set aside a specific block of time each day or week for which you only work on scholarships. Whether that time is used for research, editing, or creating content, you will create a routine for yourself that will keep you focused.
  5. Have someone else look over your work. Even if you scored a 36 on your ACT English section, always, always, always have someone review your work for possible errors. (Thanks, mom!) You want to present your best to the judges. Some scholarship contests will even publish the winning piece. To avoid simple mistakes, ask a teacher, relative, or peer to review your work for grammatical errors.

Now that you have a better understanding of scholarships and how to apply for them, get busy and good luck!